Last weekend I was fortunate enough to visit Budapest with 9 of my closest friends for an early birthday celebration! It was the best weekend ever and I’ve compiled a list of things to eat, see, drink and do if you ever see yourself visiting this beautiful city in Eastern Europe.
Eating is my favourite past time, at home or abroad however I have to preface this part of the guide by telling you that finding somewhere to eat for 10 people is HARD. I didn’t do any planning for food spots as I’d already taken part of the easy bit, booking the trip and our activities so trying to organise a group of 10, with varying preferences and dietary requirements was something I vowed to steer clear of. Budapest is FULL of great restaurants and we did come across a few gems whilst out there like Tom George and Hilda, but with that being said we came across a few… underwhelming spots that don’t deserve a mention. I usually meticulously search for possible food options being a veggie but normally there’s only me and my boyfriend to think about. There’s an abundance of lovely places to eat but there’s also a high volume of shoddy ones too, do your research if you’re fussy and if you’re happy to play Russian roulette with your food then just walk around the city till you find something you like!
Hungarian Parliament – This was the must see of my trip. I remember watching the Hungarian Grand Prix back in July and they shown the Parliament building in all it’s glory and I knew I had to see it in person one day. The Hungarian Parliament building is the largest building in Hungary and the tallest in Budapest and captures that typical eastern european gothic architecture perfectly. It’s so grand when up close and it’s well kept and it’s even better at night when it’s lit up so make sure you get to see it more than once during your trip! It costs nothing but a stroll down the Danube to see.
Buda Castle – Buda Castle is another stunning piece of Hungarian architecture and history and like Parliament, it’s best observed from a far (like in a helicopter) to see the actual size and prominence of the building. With that being said, a short cross over the Danube into Buda and you get to walk the winding trail up towards the castle. To me the walk up was the best bit as there were several little observatory spots that gave great views and the walk in itself was something to do. Avoid the stairlift if you’re an abled bodied person, the walk up isn’t nearly as steep as it leads you to believe!
Chain Bridge – The easiest way to get from Buda to Pest and vice versa whilst offering beautiful views of the Danube, Buda Castle and Parliament all in one go. Do visit all of them seperately but if you’re pressed for time, this bridge will give you access to it all.
Like eating, drinking spots in Budapest are affluent and you’ll always find somewhere to drink. The two particular popular spots are the Jewish Quarter and the Ruin Bars – several of us had recommendations to go to Szimpla Kert in particular, a popular ruin bar. After a night of walking in ridiculously uncomfortable heels for over an hour, we were told it wasn’t open on a Sunday and we were following directions to it’s old sight. Grand. We managed to make it to Szimpla Kert the next day after lunch time to see it’s quirky interior but couldn’t stop for a drink. It looks like it would be full of life in the evenings but unfortunately we didn’t experience it. Luckily for me, I’d return to Budapest again so this will be on the top of my to do list. The Jewish Quarter is littered with bars and restaurants, some better than others. We stopped in at Vicky Barcelona, a very opulent bar that had a speakeasy feel to it and the bartenders made sure everyone’s cocktail was visually 10/10. Like most European cities, you wont go thirsty here.
Thermal Baths – Dubbed the ‘City of Spas’, thermal baths and spas are as Hungarian as goulash and not experiencing one means you’re definitely missing out on a little (or big) bit of Hungarian culture. Thermal baths are a weird experience in themselves, they look like a pool but are hot and don’t smell like chlorine – through and through, it’s a bath. If it wasn’t weird enough being stood in the middle of a giant public bath, pair it with it being below zero outside of the bath and pair it again with techno and house music and plenty of booze. Yeah that’s what we did, a SPArty. After reading mixed reviews on what to expect from the baths AFTER DARK, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Yes it’s a lecherous sausage fest but stick with your friends, have a drink and a dance, call security over if you need it and you’re going to have a good time. Day or night (or both) definitely visit one of the many baths that are on offer.
Sightsee – Budapest is a city that’s packed full of beautiful and interesting sights to see with Hungary having immense history behind it. If you’re a sucker for pretty buildings then Budapest is full of them, I’ve explained further up the top three sights we saw and why you should see them. Budapest is also quite small for a city in my opinion, so we could see several sights in just a couple of hours. We walked up to Buda Palace and over Chain Bridge in a morning and then saw Parliament and the Shoes on the Danube Bank before we caught our flight back home. You could also get a segway tour to save your legs but if we did that we’d most definitely have ended up in the Danube itself!
Beer Bike – As it was a birthday celebration for myself and my friend, and I’m all up for doing something completely different, we opted for a beer bike tour on the Sunday. This hands down was the best part of my trip – from blaring out our own tunes round the centre of town to pedalling as fast as physically possible going through a busy roundabout the whole experience was new, fun and overall amazing. We had 20L of mulled wine between us which was all too tricky to drink as you’re pedalling for your life down a road full of cars however it brought even more laughs to the experience. This is a definite for groups, even as small as four people – the point is to see the city but silver party hats and laughing faces is all we could focus on! We booked with Pedalbar who were great to deal with.
Things to take into account:
- Limited shopping on a Sunday – Like I mentioned in my post about Brussels, a lot of European countries close their stores on a Sunday much like the UK used to do back in the dark ages. Budapest was better than Brussels, clothes shops were open but the the odd convenience store wasn’t. I would make sure you have all your amenities before Sunday rolls in however you won’t be dying of thirst or deprived of buying a new jumper.
- Take public transport – Public transport in Budapest is well run, efficient and CHEAP. I was worried about how we’d get from the airport to our apartment but fortunately BKK (Centre for Budapest Transport) have a handy trip planner which can map your journey door to door. For groups I recommend getting the 24hr pass for up to five people which works out around £2 per person and gives you access to all central metro lines and buses.
- Maps – We couldn’t get by with Google Maps for our journey, I’d definitely try and get access to it whilst you’re out there or use an old fashioned map to get around. Some things are really self explanatory but you could be doing a lot of walking around in circles if you don’t map your journey well enough!
- Money – Euros are commonly accepted here in Hungary however it isn’t the norm. You could be rejected when wanting to purchase with Euros but never will be with Forints, stay on the safe side and bring real Hungarian money. Be prepared for the high value of the notes to confuse you i.e. a 10,000 florint note is a thing!
- Taxis – Always book a taxi through an operator and never pick one up on the side of the road – it’s common in many countries and sometimes you will get a stress free journey but it’s not something you should really do at home or abroad. We relied on City Taxis when needed at night.